The law and the reality - how is distilling law enforced?

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The law and the reality - how is distilling law enforced?

Postby rubelstrudel » Thu Jun 21, 2018 2:01 am

In the jurisdiction I live, home distilling is strictly forbidden. The law mandates up to 6 months of prison for minor cases and up to 2 years of prison for "producing" hard liquor. There is even a passage in the law that makes prison mandatory for producing and selling high proof alcohol. Owning a still is actually punishable by up to 6 months of hard time. Wine and beer making is completely legal though, as long as you don't sell it.

Despite this, home distilling has been very common even if illegal since 1845. The height of the popularity was back in the 60s and 70s when price was more of an issue, since alcohol is heavily taxed. Lately, with the growing economy, the price has come to mean less and less, and the distillers that are still stilling do it for the quality more than the economy. On the other hand the popularity of brewing and wine making is at an all time high at the moment and I believe this has also come with a renaissance for the home distillers. Hard to say though, since we don't talk. There is probably two tiers to the distillers though. You've got the kids using low temperature condensation stills (plastic fantastic) to get their hands on some alcohol or to make it on the cheap, and you've got us old farts who see this as an artsy hobby more than a source of booze.

Following the home brewing bonanza - brew-shops are popping up all over. And in any of these shops you can also buy activated charcoal, alcometers, refractometers, turbos, speciality yeasts, glucose etc. Most everything you need but the apparatus itself. Based on a quick survey in my local supplier of "wine"-making equipment, they had 2 different brands of alcometer, 6 different types of activated charcoal, 8 different types of yeasts (turbo and others marketed specially for "neutral taste") - none of these really fit for use in brewing or winemaking - so this caters to the distillers.

It goes without saying that as long as you keep your head down, the law doesn't bother us distillers. Don't tell, don't sell is the mantra. If you don't sell, and do not provide to minors the risk is really miniscule, regarding the law. That doesn't put much a damper on the illegal market though. My guess is that it wouldn't take more than a few hours to find a local supplier of rot-gut neutral if you got dropped naked in any location in my country.

There is the old joke, adapted by locals to fit any small community:
A new man is stepping off the train in the small town where he is soon about to start his new job. A bit abashed he asks the station attendant: 'If there, possibly, would be possible to acquire some ..... distilled products... in this town?" - "Well....!, the station attendant says, "Do you see that red house over there? The one on the right side? With the uniformed police car on the outside? - That is the sheriff's house - and he does NOT sell."


So, how is the situation where you live?
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Re: The law and the reality - how is distilling law enforced

Postby Birrofilo » Thu Jun 21, 2018 2:35 am

You will find information about the rest of the world in those two threads:

"True stories of true convictions" viewtopic.php?f=49&t=70434
"Dutch action" viewtopic.php?f=49&t=47991

The juice of it all is that, in the EU, where home distilling is not legal it is so broadly tolerated that there is no documented case of conviction.

The US seem to be the only problematic jurisdiction. Most of the reported cases actually involve dangerous criminals who also distill, or professional distillers who actually sell. A serious risk was raised regarding the possibility of very oppressive administrative sanctions in the US, without judge involment or remedy.

Regarding the ability to buy a still, you don't need to spend hours: Norway adheres to the "four freedoms" of the EU. You can buy a still anywhere in Europe and it will be delivered to your door without customs verification. Just don't buy outside the EU, and you'll be fine - and will not be fined :lol: .

Homebrewing suppliers tend to sell distillation apparati in general, as the two activities are contiguous and lead naturally to each other. In Italy you can buy the Still Spirits Turbo 500 at two well-known homebrewing supplies online stores, and you can buy other kinds of stills too. eBay.it is full with traditional all-copper alembics, and some stainless steel ones (SS are mostly low-quality pressure-cookers but you can find some serious still).

You find ample choice in countries where distilling is legal, such as Hungary, or wide-spread, such as Poland.

I bought my column in Austria end of last April and am still waiting the delivery of it, not due to customs but to ridiculous inefficiency of Austrian Post delivery partners. But, that problem aside, buying a still is easy (if you don't feel confident in soldering your own).

I don't subscribe the "don't sell, don't tell" mantra.
Don't sell, I agree.
Don't tell, I don't agree.
It's important to take distilling "in the sunlight" if we want to educate the public opinion on how stupid the prohibition of home distilling for personal use is. The risk of any problem is inexistent in any case. Spread the Gospel!
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Re: The law and the reality - how is distilling law enforced

Postby Kareltje » Thu Jun 21, 2018 2:23 pm

I know in Germany, Austria and Switzerland small stills, of 0,5 to 3 liters, are allowed. In Germany there are some rules that allow owners of ingredients to distill them.

In the Netherlands owning a still is forbidden by law, but on Marktplaats, the national second hand trade site, stills are freely advertised. Not only by private owners or builders, but also by commercial firms. So clearly there is no real activity from the side of the customs or taxes to enforce the law.

There has been real active enforcing in the past, but since WW2 that was against large illegal distillers. These were runned by former smugglers and had large capacities. But after 1990 or so these practices seem to have been abandoned and replaced with making drugs.

I don't sell, but I am not really afraid to tell. I know of at least three hobby distillers nearby and some neighbours know I distill. But that is more related to making wine or beer or the like, so at a completely different scale than the large illegal distilleries.
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Re: The law and the reality - how is distilling law enforced

Postby rubelstrudel » Thu Jun 21, 2018 11:54 pm

Birrofilo wrote:The juice of it all is that, in the EU, where home distilling is not legal it is so broadly tolerated that there is no documented case of conviction.


Oh, home distillers are prosecuted in Norway. Mostly the big guys who produce thousands of liters. But a recent case in Stavanger a poor chap was sentenced to 120 days of suspended prison and 5000NOK in fines for producing 30l of 40%. He did claim that he "did not know it was illegal" but the court weren't convinced by that argument.
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